I just looked up the meaning of pandemic (defined as the widespread outbreak of a disease), and in the process learned that Pandemonium, in addition to describing a tumult or wild uproar, is also the name of the capital city in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Are we there yet? I don’t think so, but we sure are deep into some strange and uncomfortable times.
Lots of activities once thought simple and routine, have taken on new aspects and challenges. Some people don’t leave home at all. They have groceries delivered to their doorstep, touch base with friends and go to work through their smartphones and computer screens, and concentrate on hunkering down to stay safe from an invisible virus poised in the air to sicken or even kill them.
Others can’t manage such a regime. If they can’t enjoy their favorite sport because it requires a team and close contact, if they can no longer go to their favorite gym, they resort to walks, runs, or bike rides, keeping a six-foot distance from other people. They shop for groceries as infrequently as possible, sometimes at the break of day, in order to avoid crowds.
There are many more people walking the streets and trails these days. Even behind masks, perhaps because they have become less visible, I’ve noticed that lots of people make a genuine effort to wave and speak to strangers, even as they veer off the sidewalk to make sure they create the proper distance from a fellow walker or jogger.
Some people take up new hobbies or return to old ones they gave up long ago. I know a couple of talented painters who have picked up their brushes and paints after a long hiatus. Outdoor gardens are blossoming. There’s something therapeutic about digging in the dirt.
Hairstyles, or the lack of them, are giving people new looks. Beards grow, crew cuts sprout, and ponytails become ever more popular.
Bicycle shops sell out as soon as they receive a shipment. Campers and camping trailers are in demand. People have time on their hands. Donation centers are overwhelmed with items people are clearing out of their houses. It’s not uncommon to wait 45 minutes to make a donation to Goodwill or Habit for Humanity. Home trash bins are overflowing.
Commuters, even long-distance ones, are discovering that they can do their work at home, often more efficiently than before and jet lag becomes a memory.
Perhaps the hardest thing about living through the current pandemic is the uncertainty that comes along with it. No one can predict when the newest surge will calm down, when and how schools will open, just what life will be like when health concerns are no longer front and center in our thoughts and actions 24 hours a day.
What we do know, is that 2020 is bound to go down in the books as a turning point in human history. Perhaps the culture that emerges will be gentler, kinder, and less frantic that what we had come to define as normal.